It can be hard to differentiate between skin purging and a day-to-day breakout. However, if you have just recently incorporated retinol into your routine, it’s probably the cause of your new breakouts.
That being said, it’s important to note that this is common and expected for retinol, but not so much for other products. If you just started using a new hydrating serum or moisturizer, your skin shouldn’t be breaking out excessively. In that case, the product may simply be irritating your skin or clogging your pores.
Further, timing can help you decipher if it’s a breakout or purge. If it happened within the first few weeks of starting your new retinol, that’s an indication your skin is purging. But if you’ve been using the same retinol for more than 8 weeks, your breakout is likely caused by something else. “Once the purging is done, the skin should remain clear,” Zeichner previously said.
Finally, the area may help inform you: Any breakouts on the skin surface not touched by retinol (think the hairline, scalp, back, etc.) won’t be due to retinol use. On the other hand, oily areas (like a T-zone) will be more prone to purging, since it’s more likely that there will be clocked pores.